Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Short-eared Owl at Astley Green

Following a sighting report by Pete Berry on the Manchester Birding Forum yesterday, I popped out to Astley Green this afternoon to see if I could see the Short-eared Owl.  I was still feeling the effects of a trip to the dentist this morning and a quick spot of birding on a sunny afternoon was just the tonic to help them wear off.

I parked up on Whitehead Lane and, after speaking to a homeowner there, decided I could walk round the locked gates here to the fields at the back of Astley Colliery.  I soon saw a number of people gathered at what looked like the probable viewing location and so I headed for them.  As it turned out, only one was a bider, Mike Baron, and the others were dog walkers interested in what he was doing.

Whilst waiting for the owl to put in an appearance, I chatted to Mike about Risley Moss and the area around Rixton Clay Pits which he knows very well - in fact he'd previously sent me an e-mail detailing what could be seen at different times of the year there. In my rush to get out, I'd left my binoculars at home and only brought my camera and tripod.  So after I'd set it up, I had to rely on Mike and his binoculars for looking into the distance.  A pair of Kestrels and a Grey Heron flew over as we looked.

We were soon joined by Pete Berry who had been the first to report the owl here and later by Pete Hilton.  It turns out that the first Pete had seen the bird in several fields around this area, sometimes down to just 10 metres.  Several Skylarks dropped down into the fields as we chatted about whether the owl had moved on or not. And then suddenly Mike spotted it as it landed on a post.

Short-eared Owl at Astley Green - not a great photo but the best I've got.

We had good views of this beautiful bird as it quartered the fields and hopped from one fence post to another.  Unfortunately, except for our first view of the bird, it was mainly flying away from us this evening and it didn't come close enough for me to get a decent photograph.  The best view I had was through Mike's spotting scope where I could see all the detail of it's feathers and that magnificent pair of bright yellow eyes.

Mike however got a great shot with his scope and digital compact camera (i.e. digiscope), much better than I've ever got woth my DSLR camera.  With the power of the scope at 30x magnification and the zoom on his camera, he got a pretty decent full frame shot of the bird which left me wondering if I was using the wrong equipment as the 500mm zoom lens on my DSLR is only 10x magnification.  Below is one of Mike's digiscoped photographs from this afternoon's session.

Short-eared Owl at Astley Green - copyright of Mike Baron
After an hour or so we decided the bird was not going to reappear any closer to us today and so headed off for home happily having had a good view.  As I got into my car two more birders were arriving and asked for details of where to view it from. And later in the evening Steve Burke messaged me to ask the same question, so I added the details to the Astley Moss map in my Where-2-See Birds website.

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